Gardening with Kids

It’s important that children connect with their food and a garden is the perfect way to foster that.

To a gardener the garden is a place of peace and tranquility. To a child the garden is a place of wonder and discovery. Sometimes those two places crash when they meet. Gardening is a process to a child (digging in dirt, playing with water, watching for bugs) while the adult gardener may be focused on accomplishing tasks (getting the seeds in, weeding, harvesting food.)

By creating a destination garden you set yourself and your child up for success in the garden. There are a number of things you can design into your garden to keep your child busy while you accomplish tasks alone, and engaged while you work on things together.

Set aside an area of the garden that belongs to your child. Let them pick out foods they want to grow but help them choose varieties that will do well in your area. If you live in the rainy northwest as I do that may mean growing cherry tomatoes or tiny cucumbers so that the fruit ripens faster with less sunlight.

By letting your child select the vegetables, you are increasing your odds dramatically that they will eat them, especially if they are allowed to harvest them at will. Most kids enjoy carrots, peas, beans, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers. Some kids enjoy basil and lettuce. All kids enjoy growing pumpkins for Jack-o-Lanterns.

If you have room you may want to consider adding strawberry and blueberry bushes, columnar fruit trees, mint and edible flowers like sunflowers, johnny jump-ups, nasturtiums and chamomile. Fresh mint leaves and chamomile flowers or leaves can be used to make teas, mint can be steeped in warming milk to flavor it, sunflower seeds can be roasted for snacking and johnny jump-ups and nasturtiums can grace summer salads.

When it comes time to sow seeds you can make furrows in the dirt then poke your finger or a stick where the seeds should go. Most children will then be able to plant the seeds unassisted. Lettuce and carrot seeds are tiny so let them sprinkle along your furrow then plan to later go back and thin them. It’s important that your child get involved in the planting so they see the process from start to finish. You can let them water with a watering can. A rain gauge will help them to see how much water is enough and give them something to check on after storms.

Print off pictures of garden bugs and make a little booklet that your child can use to identify bugs in the garden. Lady beetles, earthworms, green caterpillars, sow bugs and aphids are all common garden bugs and giving your child the job of identifying good and bad bugs is a empowering experience.

Build a spider orb by gluing popsicle sticks together in a hexagonal shape then tying it in a tree. Your child can check daily to see if a spider has moved in yet. Once a spider moves in your child can check daily progress. It’s very exciting to catch a spider in the act of stunning and wrapping a fly!

Adding a simple water feature will provide your child hours of enjoyment as well as support beneficial insects. This can be as simple as caulking the drainage hole in flower pot and filling it with water daily. Do be sure and change the water frequently though so it doesn’t become a nesting place for mosquitoes.

Let you child harvest with you. Encourage them to use two handed picking so as not to disturb the plant and let them help you prepare the food they grew to feed the family. Jobs like these are important milestones for children and go a long way towards fostering independence and emotional security.

7 Responses to Gardening with Kids

  1. Awesome! Thanks for sharing you insight. I plan to go over the garden plans with my kids so that they can plan their garden.

  2. I love this! Thanks!

  3. I totally agree! I can get my kids to eat things straight out of the garden that they’d put their nose up to if presented on a plate. They are great garden grazers and I believe it will help them enjoy all veggies much more over time.

  4. Fantastic, thanks! Our son is only 6 months old right now, but I can’t wait until we can get him going in the garden. I have such great memories of planting with my own parents when I was small.

  5. I just started planting seeds with my little boy and I am thrilled beyond words for this new world opening up for him. Having a little section for him is such good advice (of course!) and a little water feature will keep him busy for a long time. Just what I need!

  6. Excellent post. So many good suggestions.

    My daughter spent many happy hours in the garden over the past 18 years (she turned 18 today in fact!). She poked onion sets into the ground when only 4. As she grew older and more capable she volunteered to help me with the prep work for canning, the large bush bean picking, and helped in the garden with special projects. I never forced her help but she willing volunteered – because when we were together in the garden it was our time to talk – really talk. And of course she could always help herself to anything that was on that she liked. As a result, we often would be hard pressed to get a regular harvest of the sugar snap peas – her absolute favorite fresh the garden edible. :D

    I hope as she goes on to have a home and family of her own that these good memories and experiences will stay with her. Regardless, I have enjoyed sharing my garden with my beloved child.

  7. Knitmomma – I hope you report back on how your garden grows!
    Meg – will be fun to read about you and your little garden helper this summer on your blog.
    Sandy – kids are so funny. It has to always be their idea, doesn’t it?
    Emily – so glad you have those memories so you can pass them on to your little one. This summer will be so much fun! Even sitting in the grass for the first time is magical through their eyes.
    Julia – I’m setting aside a spot for the mud pie oven which we make out of bricks. I give them an old flower pot and an unused section of dirt so they can water and mix and bake to their hearts content. It’s amazing how long they stay engaged with mud. Then I hose them off. ;p
    KFG – what lovely memories. Once she has left home she will still come back in the summer to can with you. You’ve really passed on something special to her that you will always share.

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